Colon cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death for men and women in the United States. But there is good news. Unlike other types of cancer, colon cancer has a greater than 90% cure rate if it is found early. The best way to be proactive and to detect and remove benign growths before cancer forms is for everyone to schedule and complete a routine colon cancer screening test.
UCLA Health recommends that patients either have a colonoscopy or complete a stool-based test at home.
A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure that is performed at a surgical center or hospital. During the procedure, the patient is sedated so that a gastroenterologist can look inside their colon using a small instrument that has a light and camera attached, called a colonoscope. Using a colonoscope, the physician can find small growths, known as polyps. While most polyps are benign, some can become cancerous over time. Removing polyps during a routine colonoscopy is the best way to prevent colon cancer.
A fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is a stool-based test that can be completed at home. The patient will need to collect a stool sample and then drop the kit off at a UCLA Health office or mail it to a lab for testing. If any blood is found in the stool, it is considered a positive result, and a diagnostic colonoscopy is required.
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, most people should begin screening for colon cancer at 50. African Americans, who have a higher risk of being diagnosed with colon cancer, should begin screening at 45. Anyone with a family history of colon cancer should discuss their ideal screening timeline with their physician.
A colonoscopy should be repeated every 10 years so that any polyps can be removed before they turn cancerous. If any polyps are found, the colonoscopy may be repeated sooner. A FIT should be completed annually.
Patients should not wait for symptoms, such as blood in their stool or changes in their bowel habits, to screen for colon cancer.
To schedule a colonoscopy, your doctor will need to first place a referral for the procedure. You will likely need to make an appointment with your primary care doctor so that he or she can determine if you need a colonoscopy and order the procedure if appropriate.
A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in treating conditions of the gastrointestinal system and is trained to perform colonoscopies. In many cases, it is not necessary to see a gastroenterologist in clinic before scheduling a colonoscopy. Your primary care doctor can tell you about the procedure and everything you need to know to prepare for colonoscopy.
To schedule a colonoscopy procedure once your doctor has placed an order for you.
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